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Facebook’s very bad year. No, really, it might be the worst yet | Facebook

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It’s a nowperennial headline: Facebook has had a very bad year.

Years of mounting pressure from Congress and the public culminated in repeated PR crises, blockbuster whistleblower revelations and pending regulation over the past 12 months.

And while the company’s bottom line has not yet wavered, 2022 is not looking to be any better than 2021 – with more potential privacy and antitrust actions on the horizon.

Here are some of the major battles Facebook has weathered in the past year.

Capitol riots launch a deluge of scandals

Facebook’s year started with allegations that a deadly insurrection on the US Capitol was largely planned on its platform. Regulatory uproar over the incident reverberated for months, leading lawmakers to call CEO Mark Zuckerberg before Congress to answer for his platform’s role in the attack.

Trump supporters waving American flags attend the rally on 6 January in Washington DC. Three jumbo screens project a severe closeup of Donald Trump's face.
Far-right social media users for weeks openly hinted in widely shared posts that chaos would erupt at the US Capitol on 6 January. Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

In the aftermath, Zuckerberg defended his decision not to take action against Donald Trump, though the former president stoked anger and separatist flames on his personal and campaign accounts. Facebook’s inaction led to a rare public employee walkout and Zuckerberg later reversed the hands-off approach to Trump. Barring Trump from Facebook platforms sparked backlash once again – this time from Republican lawmakers alleging censorship.

What ensued was a months-long back-and-forth between Facebook and its independent oversight board, with each entity punting the decision of whether to keep Trump off the platform. Ultimately, Facebook decided to extend Trump’s suspension to two years. Critics said this underscored the ineffectiveness of the body. “What is the point of the oversight board?” asked the Real Oversight Board, an activist group monitoring Facebook, after the non-verdict.

Whistleblowers take on Facebook

The scandal with perhaps the biggest impact on the company this year came in the form of the employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen, who leaked internal documents that exposed some of the inner workings of Facebook and just how much the company knew about the harmful effects its platform was having on users and society.

Haugen’s revelations, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, showed Facebook was aware of many of its grave public health impacts and had the means to mitigate them – but chose not to do so.

Frances Haugen, a woman with blond hair wearing a black blazer, speaks into a microphone during a Senate hearing.
Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower, exposed some of the company’s inner workings. Photograph: Drew Angerer/EPA

For instance, documents show that since at least 2019, Facebook has studied the negative impact Instagram had on teenage girls and yet did little to mitigate the harms and publicly denied that was the case. Those findings in particular led Congress to summon company executives to multiple hearings on the platform and teen users.

Facebook has since paused its plans to launch an Instagram app for kids and introduced new safety measures encouraging users to take breaks if they use the app for long periods of time. In a Senate hearing on 8 December, the Instagram executive Adam Mosseri called on Congress to launch an independent body tasked with regulating social media more comprehensively, sidestepping calls for Instagram to regulate itself.

Haugen also alleged Facebook’s tweaks to its algorithm, which turned off some safeguards intended to fight misinformation, may have led to the Capitol attack. She provided information underscoring how little of its resources it dedicates to moderating non-English language content.

In response to the Haugen documents, Congress has promised legislation and drafted a handful of new bills to address Facebook’s power. One controversial measure would target Section 230, a portion of the Communications Decency Act that exempts companies from liability for content posted on their platforms.

Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook data scientist, revealed the company allowed politicians to use the site to deceive the public or harass opponents.
Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook data scientist, revealed the company allowed politicians to use the site to deceive the public or harass opponents. Photograph: Tom Silverstone/The Guardin

Haugen was not the only whistleblower to take on Facebook in 2021. In April, the former Facebook data scientist turned whistleblower Sophie Zhang revealed to the Guardian that Facebook repeatedly allowed world leaders and politicians to use its platform to deceive the public or harass opponents. Zhang has since been called to testify on these findings before parliament in the UK and India.

Lawmakers around the world are eager to hear from the Facebook whistleblowers. Haugen also testified in the UK regarding the documents she leaked, telling MPs Facebook “prioritizes profit over safety”.

Such testimony is likely to influence impending legislation, including the Online Safety Bill: a proposed act in the UK that would task the communications authority Ofcom with regulating content online and requiring tech firms to protect users from harmful posts or face substantial fines.

Zuckerberg and Cook feud over Apple update

Though Apple has had its fair share of regulatory battles, Facebook did not find an ally in its fellow tech firm while facing down the onslaught of consumer and regulatory pressure that 2021 brought.

An iPhone 12 shows a privacy notice in the Facebook app under the new 14.5.1 operating system.
Apple’s new privacy policy led to conflicts with Facebook, which said the feature would negatively affect small businesses. Photograph: Dpa Picture Alliance/Alamy

The iPhone maker in April launched a new notification system to alert users when and how Facebook was tracking their browsing habits, supposedly as a means to give them more control over their privacy.

Facebook objected to the new policy, arguing Apple was doing so to “self-preference their own services and targeted advertising products”. It said the feature would negatively affect small businesses relying on Facebook to advertise. Apple pressed on anyway, rolling it out in April and promising additional changes in 2022.

Preliminary reports suggest Apple is, indeed, profiting from the change while Google and Facebook have seen advertising profits fall.

Global outage takes out all Facebook products

In early October, just weeks after Haugen’s revelations, things took a sudden turn for the worse when the company faced a global service outage.

Perhaps Facebook’s largest and most sustained tech failure in recent history, the glitch left billions of users unable to access Facebook, Instagram or Whatsapp for six hours on 4 and 5 October.

Facebook’s share price dropped 4.9% that day, cutting Zuckerberg’s personal wealth by $6bn, according to Bloomberg.

Other threats to Facebook

As Facebook faces continuing calls for accountability, its time as the wunderkind of Silicon Valley has come to a close and it has become a subject of bipartisan contempt.

Republicans repeatedly have accused Facebook of being biased against conservatism, while liberals have targeted the platform for its monopolistic tendencies and failure to police misinformation.

Lina Khan, wearing a blue blazer, testifies during a Senate hearing.
Lina Khan was appointed to head of the FTC in a move that spelled trouble for Facebook. Photograph: Graeme Jennings/AFP/Getty Images

In July, the Biden administration began to take a harder line with the company over vaccine misinformation – which Joe Biden said was “killing people” and the US surgeon general said was “spreading like wildfire” on the platform. Meanwhile, the appointment of the antitrust thought leader Lina Khan to head of the FTC spelled trouble for Facebook. She has been publicly critical of the company and other tech giants in the past, and in August refiled a failed FTC case accusing Facebook of anti-competitive practices.

After a year of struggles, Facebook has thrown something of a Hail Mary: changing its name. The company announced it would now be called Meta, a reference to its new “metaverse” project, which will create a virtual environment where users can spend time.

The name change was met with derision and skepticism from critics. But it remains to be seen whether Facebook, by any other name, will beat the reputation that precedes it.

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The trends you need to know about

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Accenture’s Barry Heavey discusses how the life sciences industry has changed and the most in-demand roles and skills right now.

At the end of last year, data from pharma recruiter Cpl Life Sciences and data analytics company Vacancysoft revealed that there was record recruitment in Ireland’s life sciences sector in 2021.

This year has already seen expansion across a number of pharma, biotech and medtech companies in Ireland, including Boston Scientific, Medtronic, Janssen and Merck.

So for those looking to work in the sector, what are the most in-demand roles right now and what skills do they need to be successful in the industry?

Barry Heavey is the managing director of life sciences at Accenture in Ireland. He told SiliconRepublic.com that he is seeing a lot of demand for skills in digital technology right now.

“What we look for is people who can combine skills in digital technologies with an understanding of the actual problems and complexities that companies face in developing and supplying ever more complex products to ever-more focused patient populations,” he said.

“Across the wider industry in Ireland, I see a very large demand for people who are interested in working in manufacturing, quality, supply chain management, regulatory affairs, data analytics and process development.”

While some graduates with a science degree might not see a role in manufacturing or quality as an exciting long-term option compared to R&D, Heavey said it’s important not to discount these career paths.

“Most biopharma companies need their manufacturing and quality teams to orient themselves more towards development and research, so these roles will hold exciting development opportunities while giving new graduates a great first step on the career ladder where they can learn all about the challenges of producing highly complex products to save lives.”

While there are a wide range of technical skills that will be needed in life sciences such as mRNA synthesis and formulation, conjugation chemistry, multivariate analysis, and artificial intelligence, Heavey said “multi-disciplinarity is key”.

“We need manufacturing and quality people who can collaborate with R&D and regulatory affairs people and vice versa. We need people who combine scientific, engineering, IT and business skills as well as the wider skills of communication, storytelling, project management, etc.”

Heavey also said that the industry is moving so fast now that the old siloed ways of working are no longer viable. Even though deep expertise in specific areas is required, collaboration is vital.

“Digital tools can be a key enabler of better collaboration, and innovation like advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence can also help in surfacing insights and enabling better decision-making using technology and curating and sharing knowledge over time and between teams.”

Biggest trends in the industry

For those working in the sector, one of the biggest trends is around new ‘modalities’ – new modes of treatment such as conjugated proteins, mRNA and cell therapy.

“We had the explosion of the new modality of recombinant proteins over the past 20 years, but this modality is represented by some of the best-selling drugs in the world like Keytruda, Humira, etc. and Ireland is central to the supply of these products due to proactive targeting of investment by the IDA and training capabilities from organisations such as NIBRT,” said Heavey.

He added that while Ireland was able to capitalise on the growth of the recombinant protein modality the country needs to ensure “we catch the next waves of the next generation of modalities”.

“We are seeing progress in this with Pfizer making their mRNA vaccine for Covid in their Dublin facility, but we need to continue to watch for new opportunities and invest in training our workforce to be ready for these.”

Another big trend is the increased pace of innovation. The timeframe of 10-15 years to approve a newly discovered drug has been drastically compressed in recent years. Most recently, the world saw several Covid-19 vaccines approved in under one year.

Heavey said this increased pace is partly due to the new modalities but also due to the better collection and use of data.

“With the pace of innovation in digital and medical technology, we now have the data collection and analysis tools needed to understand disease in more depth, to develop and even design new drugs faster, to decide what patients might be most likely to benefit from a treatment and to determine whether the drug is effective and safe in patients with much higher fidelity,” he said.

For those entering the industry, Heavey advised them to “think about the white space between disciplines”.

“If you are strong in digital technologies, think about upskilling in areas like biotechnology or medical device technology, so you can speak the language of people who need your IT skills.  If you are strong in R&D, think about how you can collaborate more effectively with people in manufacturing who will be trying to put new modalities on the shelves.

“If you are strong in quality control, think about what is coming next from R&D (new modalities or new analytical methods) and how you can prepare for these and expedite their introduction through enhanced collaboration,” he said.

“Bottom line is never stop learning! It is such an exciting industry to be in and I, for one, feel privileged to be involved in it.”

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

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Best podcasts of the week: The hunt for an art dealer’s riches hidden in the mountains | Podcasts

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Picks of the week

Listening
Widely available, episodes weekly
This podcast is equivalent to stepping into the studio with a musician. A specially recorded track by artists such as Björk, Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee and Neko Case is followed by an interview in which they explain how they made it. From Björk elucidating how she used the noise of frozen lakes to create soaring, glockenspiel-strafed choral pop, to Crutchfield enthusing about her love of white noise, it is hugely illuminating. Alexi Duggins

The Dangerous Art of the Documentary
Widely available, episodes weekly

What is it like to get involved in a twisty murder case and personally meet the participants? This new series hears director Tiller Russell interview the creators of shows such as Wild Wild Country and Don’t F**k With Cats. It might be heavy on industry detail, but it’s a comprehensive look at the film-making process. AD

Vibe Check
Widely available, episodes weekly
Fabulous trio Sam Sanders, Saeed Jones and Zach Stafford offer a weekly kiki “from a decidedly Black and queer perspective” in their new podcast. Just like in their group chat, the idea is to check in on each other. Plus the latest news and culture, with spot-on chemistry and disses delivered with love. Hannah Verdier

Missed Fortune
Apple Podcasts, episodes weekly
“I’m in a car with some guys I don’t know on our way to somewhere we’re not supposed to be … ” The stakes are high in this nine-part series, in which host Peter Frick-Wright joins the perilous treasure hunt for $1m that retired art dealer Forrest Fenn hid in the Rocky Mountains. Hollie Richardson

Night Fever
WOW Podcast Network and Spotify, episodes weekly

The most gossipy music podcast returns, with James St James, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato spilling all the tea from 1970s clubland to today. Nightlife favourites including Moby and Michelle Visage bring hilarious stories to help the hosts celebrate the glorious era before social media when New York clubbers could bump into RuPaul, Andy Warhol and Madonna. HV

There’s a podcast for that

Black Fashion History charts the course of Black designers, labels and models such as Naomi Campbell.
Black Fashion History charts the course of Black designers, labels and models such as Naomi Campbell. Photograph: Ken Towner/Associated Newspa/REX

This week, Fleur Britten chooses five of the best podcasts for fashion fans, from an intimate interview show with fashion journalism’s grand dame to a (cat)walk through the history of Black style

Creative Conversations with Suzy Menkes
For years, the veteran fashion critic Suzy Menkes and her unfeasibly large quiff were always first out of the blocks at the end of a fashion show, in order to secure those backstage interviews. As the former fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune, and then editor of Vogue International, Menkes is widely regarded as the grande dame of fashion journalism, with enviable access to the industry’s biggest names. Her independent podcast, launched during the first lockdown of 2020, capitalises on those connections, taking listeners behind the scenes on in-depth conversations with the likes of Demna Gvasalia, Dries van Noten and Manolo Blahnik.

The Business of Fashion Podcast
If you like being in the know on fashion industry developments, the Business of Fashion’s weekly podcast is required listening. The globally respected fashion news website launched its audio arm in 2017, and has since brought its journalistic rigour to the podcast via topical features and insightful interviews with, for example, Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet, Anna Wintour’s biographer Amy Odell, and Skims CEO Jens Grede. The features – on topics including the rise of vacation clothing, and Shein’s $100bn valuation – are always ahead of the curve.

Dressed: The History of Fashion
Many of us view clothes simply as packages of colour, shape and texture. Fashion historians, however, see layers and layers of meaning and nuance within those elements. They see the implicit cultural significance of clothing choices, and understand what our clothes are really communicating. British fashion historians Rebecca Arnold from the Courtauld Institute and Beatrice Behlen of the Museum of London have been enlightening listeners on all matters fashion history since 2018 with their highbrow yet approachable weekly podcast, Bande A Part – all with a remarkably modern outlook.

Wardrobe Crisis
While many of us would like to shop more sustainably, learning the finer details of how to do that tends to get shunted down our list of priorities when there are so many more fun distractions on offer. The Sydney-based British fashion journalist and author Clare Press, who was Vogue’s first sustainability editor, makes the task an enjoyable one, with her engaging, hard-working podcast Wardrobe Crisis, launched in 2017. Press’s tone is always upbeat and solutions-focused, and guest hosts help to keep the subject matter fresh and appealing.

Black Fashion History
When the American content creator Taniqua Russ asked people to name their favourite Black designers and brands, most drew a blank. So in 2019, she started doing her own research, sharing her findings in a podcast as a resource for people to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. Chronicling the contribution of Black people around the world to the fashion industry, this no-frills podcast has introduced its audience to the work of model Carol Collins-Miles, the milliner Lisa McFadden and the designer Therez Fleetwood, among others.

Why not try …

  • A glut of intimate, sideways stories in hit podcast Love + Radio, whose whole archive is now available to binge.

  • A guided yoga practice (yes, really) with a little singer called Dua Lipa in the new series of At Your Service.

  • The true story of Putin’s “number one enemy”, shot and killed in 2015, in Another Russia.

If you want to read the complete version of the newsletter please subscribe to receive Hear Here in your inbox every Thursday

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Most IPv6 DNS queries sent to Chinese resolvers fail • The Register

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China’s DNS resolvers fail two thirds of the time when handling queries for IPv6 addresses, and botch one in eight queries for IPv4, according to a group of Chinese academics.

As explained in a paper titled “A deep dive into DNS behavior and query failures” and summarized in a blog post at APNIC (the Asia Pacific’s regional internet address registry), the authors worked with log files describing 2.8 billion anonymized DNS queries processed at Chinese ISPs.

Among the paper’s findings:

  • 86.2 percent of queries were for A records – the record for a resource with an IPv4 address;
  • 10.4 percent were for AAAA records that point to resources with an IPv6 address;
  • 93.1 percent of queries for A records succeeded;
  • 35.8 percent of requests for AAAA records succeeded.

The researchers – led by professor Zhenyu Li and Donghui Yang, both from the Institute of Computing Technology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences – suggest the reason for the low success rate of AAAA record queries is poor performance by some Chinese players.

One outfit, 114DNS, succeeded with just 14.5 percent of AAAA queries. Alibaba Group’s AliDNS succeeded 54.3 percent of the time – more than Google or Cisco’s OpenDNS, which were found to resolve 43.4 percent and 49.2 percent of AAAA queries respectively.

A fifth of DNS resolvers never succeed at handling IPv6 AAAA queries.

“Overall, A and MX queries are successfully resolved most frequently, while AAAA and PTR manifest lower success rates,” the summary reads. “Specifically, the failure rate of AAAA queries is surprisingly over 64.2 percent — two out of three AAAA queries failed.”

“We also found the success rates for new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) and Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) were lower than that of well-established domains, primarily because of the prevalence of malicious domains,” wrote professor Li.

However the researchers did not identity why DNS resolution rates are so low, especially for AAAA queries. Nor do they mention what the poor IPv6 resolution rates mean for China’s plans for mass adoption of IPv6 by 2030.

The blog post recommends users adopt “a larger negative caching time-to-live for AAAA records associated with domains that only map to IPv4 addresses reliably.” Checking DNS resolvers’ success rates is also suggested ahead of making a choice of DNS provider. ®

OpenDNS mess

In other DNS-related news, Cisco’s OpenDNS service today wobbled for a few hours in North America.

WeWork offices, wherein some of our vultures toil, experienced network problems, as did at least one university. We’ve also heard reports that the incident impacted email security guardian Spamhaus.

The issue was resolved without Cisco offering any explanation for the incident.



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